Sam Malcolmson: Phoenix will rise, but we need an Auckland team

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Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has the team on the right track for the playoffs. Photo / Getty Images
Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has the team on the right track for the playoffs. Photo / Getty Images

Despite their struggles I'm convinced the Phoenix will soon be a force in the A-league again. More importantly, though, I believe the time is right for the A-league administration and New Zealand Football to consider establishing a new franchise in Auckland.

Yes, I can hear the cry that the Kingz and the Knights were dismal failures. But the A-league has progressed as a professional organisation since those embarrassing days. A new franchise will also learn from those mistakes and the success of the Phoenix in their infancy. There are enough well-heeled business people in Auckland to relish this challenge.

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick is on the right track with the attractive style of soccer they are playing, and even a 25 per cent success rate from the strikers would have them in the top four. Once Merrick can offload a few players and sign his own, they will be title challengers.

The standard of the A-league has dropped this season but such is its closeness and unpredictability that I agree with Merrick's prediction that the Phoenix will make the playoffs.

My major concern is the poor crowds - the last two home games have attracted only around 6000 spectators. That is a big problem when you consider that last Sunday's game was played on a beautiful evening, with a late kickoff making it attractive for families during the school holidays.

That match against Sydney City highlighted that the Phoenix are really a Wellington team. Only four New Zealanders started the game and one of those, Andrew Durante, is a recently naturalised Australian.

This is not a criticism, but an observation that the pathway to professional soccer for New Zealand youngsters is restricted.

Added to that, the national league is a dismal competition and interest sparks only for the O-league, where Auckland and Waitakere have represented New Zealand well.

An Auckland A-league team, based at North Harbour Stadium, would offer more opportunities for our youngsters as well as reinvigorating the world's number one game in the country's biggest city.

Auckland's population of 1.5 million must surely be able to maintain a successful and popular A-league team. It would also be easier to attract high quality overseas foundation players and coaches to a multi-cultural city like Auckland.

How about Ryan Nelsen as the coach and a player such as one of the Manchester United legends Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes as the marquee signing who would double as assistant coach. Happy New Year, and be safe in 2014.

- NZ Herald

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